2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 29 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 103 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 13th (coincidentally, this blogger’s birthday) with 372 views. The most popular post that day was Looking for Jesus in the Holy Land.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were catholicreview.org (no surprise there), standrewbythebay.org, facebook.com, en.wordpress.com, and twitter.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for marc lanoue, father stephen hook, bishop denis madden, father paschal morlino, and where do most judaism people stay. Apparently some of the priests on pilgrimage had followers searching for them. That last search string yielded some interesting results.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Looking for Jesus in the Holy Land October 2010
3 comments

2

Praying at the Western Wall October 2010
1 comment

3

Father Martin’s reflection: “The God of Surprises met me” October 2010
1 comment

4

Prayers come alive for pilgrim travelers October 2010
1 comment

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Embracing the future of the Catholic press

Change can revitalize an organization. It’s not worth changing things just for the sake of change, but when faced with a real need, organizations must embrace the challenge.
The Catholic Review and its parent company, The Cathedral Foundation Inc., have begun a strategic planning process to chart a path for the next three to five years as a Catholic newspaper and publishing company.
The Cathedral Foundation includes more than just The Catholic Review;
One of the things that drove us to this planning is the realization that while some people continue to enjoy holding a printed newspaper in their hands, the narrow definition of “newspaper” no longer fully defines what we do. Several years ago, The Catholic Review launched one of the most robust websites in the Catholic press, a website that now needs an overhaul and update. In the last year, we branched out into social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and made more frequent use of an e-mail newsletter. Our newsroom staff is blogging more these days, too. But that’s just a start.
Our Strategic Planning Committee includes three members of our board of trustees, and about 10 other professionals from media, ministry and technology around Maryland. Patricia Bosse of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, a board member and committee chairwoman, summed up the strategic planning task early on in a discussion over the summer: How do we maintain and enhance the rhythm of communications we have through The Catholic Review in the Archdiocese of Baltimore?
Our group has a few more meetings before it presents ideas and a proposal in mid-January to Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, our chairman and publisher, and the board. So far, we are focusing on The Catholic Review becoming a wide-ranging Catholic news vehicle/portal that addresses many different age groups. A print newspaper continues to be our primary ministry, but we should expand our efforts to publish news and information on the Web, in e-newsletters and perhaps develop apps for e-readers and smart phones. The information in one format might not be the same as that delivered in another platform.
What do you, as a reader, think of this direction? How do you use the information in The Catholic Review? How do you access it now (print or online)? What would you like to see in the future? Share your thoughts with us at newideas_at_CatholicReview.org, or write to Strategic Planning, The Catholic Review, P.O. Box 777, Baltimore, MD 21201.
If you are interested in being part of a focus group to talk about some of the plans we’re making, write to us at the same address or click here.
It’s an exciting time to be working in this ministry of the word. We can’t wait to see what the future holds. But we’re not just waiting; we’re actively shaping it.
– Christopher Gunty
Editor, Associate Publisher
12/14/2010

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Hallelujah! What a chorus

Matt Palmer’s take on the worst holiday/Christmas songs got me thinking about two versions of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” making the rounds of e-mail and internet posts this time of year. Both bring a smile.

One features a well-organized “flashmob” that brings the chorus to a mall food court. At some point, some of the food court patrons join in the singing, and at the end, much applause rewards the singers.

You cannot hear one young man’s comment, but you can read his lips as he says, “That was beautiful.”

The other, an interpretation of the familiar song by the “silent monks” of Winter Park High School in Florida, has the song played overhead as berobed students display placards with the words.

It’s fun and full of joy, don’t you think?

Which one, if either, do you prefer? Or do you have another recommendation?

– CG

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Locusts and wild honey, or chocolate-covered grasshoppers?

Locusts and wild honey doesn’t sound like a very appetizing diet. I suppose some people have eaten chocolate-covered grasshoppers, but I haven’t been brave enough to try that. And I know there are cultures that regularly dine on certain insects as staples in their diet (plenty of protein, I’m told). You have a hard enough time convincing me to eat vegetables.

This tree's pods might have been the source for the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.

For that reason the Scripture we heard last Sunday (and that we hear at least every three years in Advent) about John the Baptist’s unusual sartorial habits and dining choices always gave me pause. My natural response was: Itch. And: Ick.

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
(Mt 3:1-6)

The great thing about our pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel and Jordan were the way the trip opened up the Scriptures in ways previously blocked. We saw the Jordan River, probably the spot where John did his baptizing. What was at that time a rushing river is barely a stream now, but it was still impressive to be in that holy place. But it was not just the places but the bits of trivia that made the Scriptures come alive.

Msgr. Art Valenzano holds a dried seed pod, the food that might have been the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.

At Sephora, in Galilee, the place believed to be the home of Joachim and Ann (parents of Mary, and grandparents of Jesus), we saw a tree whose pods were drying in the October sun. Our guide happened to mention that these were likely the “locusts” that John ate, when Matthew talked of him eating “locusts and wild honey.” Although some versions of the Bible actually translate that passage as “grasshoppers,” the guide said that the dried pods looked somewhat like locusts and rattled or chirped like locusts when scattered on the ground. When chewed, the pods and the seeds in them gave off a vaguely cocoa-like smell and taste, he said. (Could this be where the idea for chocolate-covered grasshoppers came from?) In any case, such a plant could well have sustained a hermit in the desert, especially one aiming for a simple life, as John did.

Msgr. Art Valenzano sniffs a dried seed pod, the food that might have been the "locusts" in John the Baptist's desert diet.


While the revelation demystified the Baptist somewhat, it doesn’t change his heroic effort or his message. Whether he was eating grasshoppers or seed pods, he lived a humble life in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Savior. Through his baptism of Christ in the Jordan, salvation history takes the next step.

Christopher Gunty
12/7/2010

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Behind the headlines at TCR

I’ve been in the Catholic news business since I got out of college, and been writing and working for newspapers even longer than that if you count high school and college days, too. When I came to The Catholic Review in July 2009, I knew that I was joining a great group of journalism and publishing professionals serving the Archdiocese of Baltimore. But every newsroom is different.

We’ve had our hands full in the past year and a half, and it’s only going to get more exciting as we face the changing landscape of American journalism.

That’s what I love about this business – you never know what will come up from one day to the next. A lot of people think that a Catholic newspaper must, by definition, have such a limited scope of coverage, but there is a great variety of news within the church. Over the years, I have covered not only lots of liturgies and ministries but also tons of meetings, sports, business, schools, social services, disasters, and government hearings (which can sometimes be disastrous). I’ve covered popes and priests and lay people. The Catholic press is at its best when we’re telling the stories of the people of God, and The Review does that well.

We’re in the midst of a strategic planning process that is looking at the present and the future, looking at who are readers are and who we’re missing – and how we can deliver the news and information all of them need on whatever platform they want to read it, printed paper or pixels.

This blog started in its new format in order to provide daily coverage of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It will now evolve to provide news analysis and musings from my perspective as a Catholic journalist. I hope that you’ll continue to read and comment on this blog and others, including those from staff writers George Matysek Jr. and Matt Palmer, giving you a look at what happens “behind the headlines.”

[This blog entry adapted and updated from a blog post from July 2009.]

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Bishop Madden, priests from Baltimore visit Bethlehem University in West Bank

By Christopher Gunty
editor@CatholicReview.org

BETHLEHEM, West Bank – The newest building at Bethlehem University, completed in the year 2000 and appropriately called the Millennium Building, was struck by shells fired by the Israelis. Other parts of the campus were hit as well.

The damage has since been repaired, and other than the hole in the library building/heritage center that has now become a porthole window, and machine-gun scars that pock-mark the walls of some buildings, most of the campus seems secure.

“I don’t know what the message was supposed to be,” de La Salle Christian Brother Joe Loewenstein said of the guided-missile attack on the school, the first university in the Palestinian Territories, but he knows it was not a mistake.

“They said they saw somebody with a gun or something,” he said wryly. As the president emeritus of Bethlehem U, he sounds as though he has trouble believing the claim.

The university aims to be unabashedly Catholic-Christian, and yet be a place where the region’s Muslim majority are comfortable attending. In fact, with Christians comprising less than 1 percent of the population in the Palestinian territories, it might come as a surprise that 30 percent of the 3,000 students are Christian and 70 percent are Muslim.

To encourage understanding of each other’s cultures, all students are required to take a religious studies course that teaches students about both Christian and Muslim cultures.

While on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land Oct. 12-21, Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore, and 23 priests from the archdiocese and nearby dioceses visited Bethlehem for a day. After celebrating an early Mass Oct. 14 at the site of Christ’s birth and visiting the Grotto of the Nativity, the group visited Bethlehem University for a briefing and a visit with students.

The university was established in 1973 as one of three initiatives – along with the Tantur ecumenical institute and the Ephphatha school for the deaf – at the urging of Pope Paul VI after his visit to the Holy Land in 1967.

Ala Sharif, a fourth-year student who is a Muslim, said she has no problems relating to her classmates; if possible, she hopes to start her own business after completing a master’s degree.

The priests talked with students about prospects for peace, not only among Christians and Muslims within Palestine, but with Israelis on the other side of the 700-mile-long wall that separates the West Bank and Palestinian territories from Israeli-occupied settlements.

Bishara Nassar, a recent graduate and one of the school’s ambassadors, said peace must begin from the ground up. “Peace will never come from the governments; it will not come through the peace process,” he told the group.

Another fourth-year student, Tareq Shahwam, agreed, though he believes it will not be even his generation, but the next, that can achieve peace.

“We need to break down the physical barriers and then break down the psychological barriers,” he said, adding that most of those in his Palestinian generation “would recognize Israel if they would recognize us.”

However, with the requirement for service in the Israeli military for people his age, Shahwam fears that they are already indoctrinated.

“The next generation,” he said, “if you can put other ideas in their head that Palestinians are people too,” then there may be a chance for peace.

De LaSalle Christian Brother Jack Curran, vice president for development for Bethlehem University, told the priests that 2,000 years ago, “people came to Bethlehem because a star led them.” Gesturing toward the eight students who had shared their experiences with the group, he said, “Brother Joe (Loewenstein) and I and people like us stay in Bethlehem because stars lead us.”

– Bethlehem, Oct 19, 2010

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Father Steve’s reflection: Living side by side

The Western Wall had a great impact on several priests on our pilgrimage, as you’ll see in this reflection from Father Steve Hook.
– CG

Bishop Denis J. Madden prepares to celerate the fractioning rite during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in a Mass for a pilgrimage of priests from Maryland inside the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem Oct. 15. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

This entire pilgrimage was awe-inspiring, yet overwhelming. It is going to take me years to fully appreciate what I have experienced by my journey to the Holy Land and being able to walk where Jesus walked and pray where Jesus taught.

One of the highlights that comes to mind for me was actually the day we celebrated Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, then walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of the Old City, which ended at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount with the view of the Dome of the Rock. It seemed to be the one place on earth where Christianity, Judaism and Islam converged, and at least while we were there, were living side by side.

As we approached the Western Wall, I was thinking to myself what it was that I wanted to pray for that day. The custom is to either write a prayer and place it in the wall or just touch the wall and voice your prayer in silence.

The Dome of the Rock overlooks Temple Mount and the Western Wall Plaza, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Judaism. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

I was thinking of so many things and people that I should include in my prayers but I couldn’t settle on any one person or request. So as I approached the wall, my mind was scattered in all directions. But as soon as my hands touched the wall, a prayer intention miraculously became clear: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. It is a prayer that is mentioned throughout the Scriptures, which also say that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, which would be destroyed.

As I reflected upon this prayer throughout the rest of the trip, and even still today, I believe that is the, and ought to be, the ongoing and daily prayer of all peoples of faith. It is a prayer not only for the Jerusalem here on earth, but also a prayer of hope for all of us, as we await the coming of the new Jerusalem in the kingdom of God.
Father Stephen Hook
Pastor, St. Augustine Parish, Williamsport, MD
Oct. 30, 2010


See a related entry here.

Pilgrims approach the Western Wall, one of the most sacred sites int he world for Judaism. People of all faiths come from around the world to bring their prayers to this holy place. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

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Father Ty’s reflection: An indelible impression on mind, heart and soul

The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s a different perspective from Father Ty Hullinger.
– CG

A memorial monument outside the Yad Vadhem Holocaust History Museum in Israel. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)


“For me, one special pilgrimage encounter was our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust (Shoah) History Museum in Jerusalem. I had heard many people talk of its importance and the impact it can have on the one who visits it: from our own Cardinal William H. Keeler to the many rabbis and cantors I have known. I must say that the experience touched me deeply, and has left an indelible impression in my mind and heart (and, dare I say, soul?). I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., numerous times, and it is a powerful place of memory, but Yad Vashem had further layers and depths of meaning for me. One of the first exhibits was on the Church’s influence in inflaming the powers of hate, anti-Semitism, and anti-Judaism by a preaching of contempt for the Jewish People, especially during the Middle Ages. Yad Vashem did not shy away from presenting the disturbing images coming from within the Church of depictions in art, architecture, etc. of the Jewish people as rejected or accursed. And this was easy fuel for Nazis to ignite into flames of contempt, hatred and destruction. I appreciated the fact that Yad Vashem did not chose to ignore this tragic history, but presented it upfront, as one of the first exhibit panels, forcing us to move beyond our complacencies.

And as we journeyed to the Hall of Names, where Yad Vashem has collected more than 3.5 million (of the estimated 6 million) names of Jewish men, women and children who perished in the crimes of the Shoah, I was confronted with the knowledge that of the names already collected at Yad Vashem, there were Hullingers and Hollingers, mostly from Southern Ukraine and Romania, who perished in the death camps. Are these distant relatives? Why does my family have no knowledge of them? The general assumption among the elders of my family is that we are descendants of German and Swiss Protestants. But is there more to my own family tree? Is there another history of my family that has been forgotten (deliberately or not)? The Hall of Names is a circular room, painted black, that is in reality a library of names and memories. About half of the shelves are already filled with huge black books containing the names and information of 3.5 million Jewish victims who are known. The other half is empty. It reminds you that there are still so many lives hidden among the horrors of what happened, waiting to be discovered by relatives and friends. Many may never be remembered because there were no immediate survivors among family and friends. That is a haunting thought. As if the designer knew these emotions would surface, the Hall’s ceiling is a cylinder of portraits of victims, faces that swirl upward to the light. But the middle of the floor is the reverse image of the ceiling. It is a dark abyss, literally a pit that extends down into darkness below. How much has been lost by the cruelty of human persons? This “empty tomb” immediately reminded me of the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So much remains unknown, and unknowable to us.

Father Ty Hullinger prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, and also welcomes those of other faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

This pilgrimage leaves me with new questions to consider. Maybe that is why we make pilgrimages to holy places. Our presumptions and assumptions about our faith will be challenged on a pilgrimage. Dreams and ideas confront reality, geography, and even family history. Pilgrimages pose difficult issues and questions that the pilgrim must wrestle with. So like Jacob who wrestled with God (or his angel) in the night, I too now am confronting the difficult but necessary and life-fulfilling questions God is posing to me.

Father Ty Hullinger
Pastor, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Most Precious Blood Parish, St. Dominic Parish; Baltimore
Oct. 27, 2010

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Father Peter’s reflection: ‘Saints and sinners rub shoulders in these streets’

I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Third Order Regular of St. Francis Father Peter Lyons.
– CG

Priests from the Baltimore area stop for prayer along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering or Way of Grief) during Stations of the Cross in the streets of Jerusalems Old City. Vendors' stalls line the narrow alleyways. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

In the narrow, crowded streets of the Old City of Jerusalem the sacred and the secular come face to face. For me it brought home once again the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus really took on our humanity and pitched his tent right here in the messiness of this world of ours and this life of mine. Saints and sinners rub shoulders in these streets. Some are carrying a cross or praying the rosary or singing hymns. Others are selling fruits and vegetables, tacky souvenirs, T-shirts with crude sayings – while cripples and beggars sit by the side of the road and, more than likely, a few thieves and prostitutes ply their trades as well. And slowly the truth sinks in, that God is the God of all of them. All are his children. He loves each of them – each of us – maybe the prostitutes and beggars more than those we might label as righteous. And the Christ who came among us has commissioned us to continue to deliver this message. This is the mystery of faith which we are so privileged to celebrate, and which came alive once more as we walked in his footsteps in the Holy Land.
Fr. Peter Lyons, TOR
Pastor, St. Ann Parish, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010

Father Peter Lyons (white shirt, at left) participates in the Way of the Cross with the pilgrimage of priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The prayerful procession wended its way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City Oct. 15. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

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Father Augustine’s reflection: Peace beyond words

The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Missionary of St. Paul Father Augustine Inwang.
– CG

Father Augustine Inwang blesses himself with water from the Jordan River during a pilgrimage with priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

As far as I am concerned, the pilgrimage that we made to the Holy Land was a trip of a lifetime. I was blessed to be in the company of those who went on the trip. I am blessed and very privileged to have been in the company of Bishop Denis J. Madden. I don’t think my first trip to the Holy Land could have been half as wonderful and spirit-filled as it was if the bishop was not directing the journey.

The high point of the pilgrimage for me was our last day in Tiberias. Early that morning I went out to pray behind the hotel looking at the Sea of Galilee. There it was easy to look across the lake to Nazareth on one side and Capernaum on the other, to imagine all the activities that took place there during the time of Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount (the Beatitudes), the feeding of the 5,000, the primacy of Peter, the walking on the sea, and even Jesus sleeping on the boat. It was an experience that will be difficult to describe. The peace that I felt and favors received while there are beyond words.

Father Augustine Inwang, MSP, prays Oct. 15 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Jewish people and those of many faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)

The journey was not just a pilgrimage, it was indeed a retreat. The reflections of Bishop Madden during the Masses celebrated were deep and spirit-filled. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel in such a great group of caring and compassionate priests. I have no doubts that the priesthood is the best profession in the world and I am grateful to God be counted as one his priests.

Fr. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP
Pastor, Transfiguration Roman Catholic Congregation, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010

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